Former county priests cited in abuse report
VERMONT — The statewide Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington knew at least 40 Vermont priests faced accusations of sexually abusing children over the past seven decades but did nothing to alert the public or police, a lay-led church committee announced Thursday.
Twelve of those priests served in Addison County or Brandon. Their tenures occurred at various points between 1950 and 2002.
The committee, given unprecedented access to personnel files once seen by only Catholic leaders and lawyers, issued an online report that named the accused clergy — none whom are currently working but several who are still alive — and acknowledged past officials of the state’s largest religious denomination covered up the claims so as not to spark court suits or scandal.
“While most of these allegations took place at least a generation ago, the numbers are still staggering,” Vermont Catholic Bishop Christopher Coyne said Thursday. “These shameful, sinful and criminal acts have been our ‘family secret’ for generations.”
The report showed no current misconduct. All but one of the allegations occurred before 2000.
Detailed revelations about priest misconduct were not made available. The report did not say how many victims there were, and church officials said they would not disclose that information.
“Many abusers and their victims are deceased, so some might ask ‘Why engage in this process?’” the committee wrote. “Publication of a list may cause harm to the legacy of accused perpetrators, but the list also may offer some long-missed consolation to victims and their families and friends.”
“What is particularly painful is knowing how lives were changed irreparably by what happened to the victims when they were young,” the committee wrote. “For some there might have been the opportunity for healing, but for many there may have been a series of life choices intended to cover scars that only resulted in more pain and disappointment. Lives have been lost because of the abuse that occurred.”
Church leaders acknowledge publicizing the list of priests could subject the diocese to more lawsuits. More than 50 accusers have won nearly $31.5 million in settlements in the past several decades. Their shared lawyer, Jerome O’Neill of Burlington, still has six cases pending in court.
“My reaction is disappointment,” O’Neill said of the report he believes should have been released long ago by previous church leaders. “It was more important for those bishops that they protect the reputations of their child-abusing clergy and the diocese itself than to protect children from being sexually assaulted.”
Worldwide the Catholic Church has faced damning revelations about clergy misconduct since 2002, when the Boston Globe published a child sex abuse investigation dramatized in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight.”
After a new round of national headlines resurrected the subject last year, Coyne released accusers from nondisclosure agreements and gave his diocese’s long-locked personnel files to a lay committee to review and release the names of diocesan clergy who have faced “credible and substantiated” allegations of child sexual abuse since 1950.
“While there has been significant action by the church here in Vermont and in the United States to address the issue,” Coyne said Thursday, “the whole sordid tale of what happened in decades leading up to the U.S. bishops’ 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People has not been fully aired. That is why I have asked that this report be compiled and published.”
The seven-member committee received the files last November with the promise it could take as much time as needed to write a report that would be published without changes. But that hands-off approach led the national Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests to question why the church was waiting to publicize information that could safeguard children sooner rather than later.
“Every single day a predator’s name is hidden, children are at risk,” longtime former SNAP leader David Clohessy said while visiting the state earlier this month. “Although none of these guys may be in parishes anymore, one of them could be a coach at a soccer camp or tutoring at the library or providing piano lessons in his apartment.”
In response, the committee of four men and three women — led by former Chittenden County State’s Attorney Robert Simpson and Spectrum Youth & Family Services Executive Director Mark Redmond — issued a statement saying “this is very important work and we need to get it right.”
“Once we saw the personnel files — some of them 1,000 pages or more — we knew it would take many more months,” the committee added of its hope to release its report earlier this year. “The seven members have been left to do their work with no interference. Transparency was promised and received.”
Many of the names and offenses aren’t new to people who’ve followed the issue in the past two decades. The diocese was compelled to share its files with the Vermont Attorney General’s Office after the 2002 Boston Globe report. Upon review of records from 1950 to 2000, the state didn’t charge anyone criminally because claims found credible were too old to prosecute under statutes of limitations.
Survivors, however, were free to file civil lawsuits or seek financial settlements — an option made easier this spring when the state Legislature approved a law repealing any restrictions on such actions.
More than 50 Vermont men and at least two women went on to pursue cases in Chittenden Superior Court against 13 priests, including the late Donald Bean, James Dunn, the late Joseph Dussault, the late Edward Foster, John Kenney, the late Michael Madden, James McShane, Stephen Nichols, Edward Paquette, George Paulin, the late Charles Towne, Alfred Willis and the late Benjamin Wysolmerski.
Many of those priests’ personnel records became public when they were introduced as evidence. Even so, members of the lay committee — which included one survivor and one non-Catholic — have been the first people other than church leaders or lawyers to see all the problematic files in their entirety.
Previously unpublished names revealed in the committee report include Robert Baffa, James Beauregard, Conrad Bessette, Paul Bresnahan, Donald Bruneau, James Campbell, Robert Devoy, John Eastman, James Foley, William Gallagher, Edward Gelineau, John Guischard, Dennis LaRoche, Brian Mead, Walter Miller, Joseph Mooney, George Murtagh, Raymond Provost, Mark Quillen, Daniel Roberts, Forrest Rouelle, Emile Savary, Ronald Soutiere, Richard Thompson, Raymond Walsh and Donal Ward.
The release of the report comes nearly a year after Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan joined other local and state leaders last September in announcing a task force of police and prosecutors to review the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington’s half-century-long history of church-wide misconduct.
The Attorney General’s Office released a one-sentence statement Thursday reiterating that “the criminal investigation of numerous allegations remains active and ongoing.”
Gov. Phil Scott said during his weekly press conference that he would review the report before determining any future action.
“It’s really concerning when you see there are possibly 40 thus far, and possibly growing,” Scott said. “It’s certainly a black eye for our state and also for the diocese.”
Scott said the church “absolutely” should take proactive steps to address the issue.
“Public safety is a top concern of any government, to me in particular, and we need to provide our citizens the safety they deserve,” Scott said. “This predatory … nature of this issue isn’t new to Vermont, we learned about this at least a decade ago. But to see this persist is something that is concerning.”
SNAP, for its part, has asked the attorney general to immediately issue a preliminary report that discloses “the names of any living priests, nuns, seminarians, bishops or other church staff who have committed or concealed child sex crimes.”
In the meantime, the support group has released its own list of clergy with Vermont ties facing accusations in other states. Those former priests include Leo Courcy and Charles Many — who were also named in the diocese’s report.
Other survivors note that Paul Shanley, a former priest at the center of the Boston child sex abuse scandal, often traveled to Vermont. Shanley established a since-closed retreat house for youth workers near the Weston Priory, where other visiting clergy face their own allegations.
“Now that these names have been released, we hope that it will encourage survivors to come forward, make a report to law enforcement, and find support and healing,” SNAP Executive Director Zach Hiner said in response to the church report. “And we hope that this news will reverberate through the community and that parents and the public will continue to demand transparency.”
That’s because survivors don’t want the abuse of the past to continue in the future.
“Coyne reassures the public by saying that these men have been ‘out of ministry’ since 2000, but that doesn’t mean that these men stopped having access to children in 2000,” Hiner said. “There’s no sudden age at which a child abuser stops being a child abuser, so it never should have taken this long for these names to be released in the first place.”
The following priests, who served in Addison County or Brandon, were named Thursday in the “Independent Report on Priest Sex Abuse Cases for the Diocese of Burlington, Vt.”
Paul M. Bresnahan • Born: July 11, 1928 (Proctor) • Ordained: June 5, 1954 (Burlington) • Served: Middlebury, St. Mary, (Assistant & Pastor), 1983-96; Proctor, St. Dominic (Pastor), 1996-2002. • Retired: May 15, 2002 • Died: July 23, 2003 (Rutland)
James F. Foley • Born: June 12, 1919 (Brooklyn, N.Y.) • Ordained: June 11, 1949 (Burlington) • Served: Orwell, St. Paul, (Pastor). • Retired: Dec. 1, 1984 • Died: Nov. 27, 2002 (Burlington)
George O. Murtagh • Born: July 8, 1926 (Montpelier) • Ordained: June 3, 1950 (Burlington) • Served: Middlebury, St. Mary, (Assistant), 1950-51; Pittsford, St. Alphonsus, (Pastor), 1969-72; Bristol, St. Ambrose, 1981-87. • Resigned in 1987 and transferred to Hartford, Conn., Institute of Living and Cathedral of St. Joseph. • Retired: Nov. 1, 1991 • Public Priestly faculties revoked: Dec. 17, 1992 by Bishop Kenneth A. Angell; • Died: Dec. 7, 2011 (Ocala, Fla.)
Raymond D. Walsh • Born: July 11, 1927 (Rutland) • Ordained: June 5, 1954 (Burlington) • Served: Middlebury, St. Mary, (Assistant), 1954-59; West Rutland, St. Bridget, 1976-98. • Retired: June 1998. • Died: June 24, 2019 (Rutland)
Donal D. Ward • Born: February 16, 1933 (New York City) • Ordained: March 30, 1963 (Rome) • Assignments: Middlebury, St. Mary, (Assistant), 1963-67; Vergennes, St. Peter, (Pastor), 1991-2002. • Administrative Leave: May 24, 2002 • Resignation: Oct. 2, 2002 • Public Priestly faculties revoked: Oct. 4, 2002 • Died: Feb. 20, 2018 (St. Albans)
Raymond C. Provost • Born: July 13, 1908 (Winooski) • Ordained: June 6, 1936 (Montreal) • Served: Bristol, St. Ambrose, (Pastor), 1968-75. • Retired (Health reasons): Nov. 28, 1975; but continued to help in both Winooski parishes until about 1995; • Died: Aug. 13, 1998 (Burlington) • Allegation of abuse first received in 2005, approximately 7 years after his death.
John B. “Jack” Kenney • Born: December 10, 1927 (Burlington) • Ordained: May 30, 1957 (Burlington) • Served: Vergennes, St. Peter, (Temporary Administrator), 2002. • Retired: July 1, 1997 • Living
James J. McShane Jr. • Born: November 11, 1940 (Worcester, Mass.) • Ordained: May 28, 1966 (Cambridge, Mass.) • Served: Chaplain for both the Boy Scouts 1967-93 and Vermont Army National Guard 1969-95; Vergennes, St. Peter, (Assistant),1971-73; Pittsford, St. Alphonsus, (Pastor),1987-92. • Public Priestly faculties revoked and Administrative leave: May 24, 2002 by Bishop Kenneth Angell • Resignation: As Pastor Jan. 20, 2003 • Living
John A. Guischard • Born: February 28, 1916 (Philadelphia) • Ordained: March 30, 1968 (Rome) • Assignments: Vergennes, St. Peter, (Temp. Administrator), 1973. • Retired: June 19, 1991 (continued in campus ministry at St. Joseph College, Rutland) • Died: May 15, 2007 (Rutland)
Daniel F. Roberts • Born: July 19, 1909 (Jersey City, N.J.) • Ordained: December 22, 1945 (Hartford, Conn.) • Assignments: Forestdale, St. Monica, (Administrator) and Brandon State School (Chaplain), 1956; Bridport, St. Bernadette and Shoreham, St. Genevieve, (Administrator), 1956-60. • Retired: October 1, 1980 • Died: Dec. 12, 1981 (Windsor) • Allegation of abuse first received in 2002, approximately 21 years after his death
Benjamin D. Wysolmerski • Born: August 4, 1926 (West Rutland) • Ordained: June 3, 1950 (Burlington) • Assignments: Bridport, St. Bernadette, (Pastor), 1963-66; Pittsford, St. Alphonsus, (Pastor),1977-87. • Resignation: June 15, 1993 • Public Priestly faculties revoked: June 17, 1993, by Bishop Kenneth A. Angell • Died: Oct. 11, 1994 (Rutland)
Brian E. Mead • Born: June 15, 1942 (Port Chester, N.Y.) • Ordained: May 17, 1969 (Port Chester, N.Y.) • Assignments: Brandon, St. Mary, (Temp. Administrator), 1974. • Administrative leave: May 24, 2002 by Bishop Kenneth A. Angell • Resignation: As Pastor Jan. 17, 2003 • Public Priestly faculties revoked: Dec. 6, 2004 by Bishop Kenneth A. Angell • Living